TCR No. 8 had originally been scheduled for 2020, but that was cancelled due to the disruption caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, see the 2020 Transcontinental Race page. A route that only visited 3 countries was planned for 2021, but that edition was also cancelled due to concerns about travel restrictions, see the 2021 Transcontinental Race page.
For the 5th time out of the 8 editions, TCR No. 8 started in Geraardsbergen, Belgium, with a climb up the steep cobbled lane of the Kappelmuur. The start time was around sunset on Sunday evening, 22:00, July 24th, 2022.
The cancelled 2020 and 2021 versions were due to start in Brest, France and then head to the Roubaix cobbles, but neither of those elements were included in the 2022 version. To reach the first control point (CP), the riders headed east to the Ore Mountains in Czechia, between Dresden and Prague. The race route had never spent so much time in Germany before nor spent so much time that far north. The obligatory CP1 parcours was quite a convoluted route of 120 km over hilly Czech roads.
The Gavia Pass in Italy was chosen as the only Alpine control point. To reach it, Bavaria and the western Austrian Alps had to be crossed. The Gavia climb started in Bormio, so a similarly high mountain pass had to be crossed to get there. Most people choosing the Umbrail pass, but a few chose the slightly higher Stelvio for some bonus hairpin bends and at least one person found an alternative gravel pass farther west that was slightly lower.
Control Points 3, 4 and the Finish from the cancelled 2020 version of the race were retained. CP3 was the Durmitor National Park in Montenegro, where the race visited in 2016, which was my favorite CP of the 3 editions of the TCR that I rode. The route climbs up from a dramatic gorge to a high, remote plateau. The routes that people used to reach CP3 are discussed in the Penalty Controversies section below.
The CP4 parcors was a remote dirt road in Romania’s Parâng mountains, part of the Carpathians, starting near the top of the Transalpina Pass. Many people commented on how rough and sometimes unrideable the road/track was, but this was no surprise because many editions of the TCR have included similar challenges.
Route choices from CP3 to CP4 and from CP4 to the finish were each dominated by the very limited number of crossings of Europe’s 2nd-longest river, the Danube. In addition, cyclists are not allowed on many of the larger roads in Romania, so there were very few legal route options. The organizers had announced that only 3 ferry crossing across the Danube could be used between Romania and Bulgaria and none of the bridges. Due to exceptionally low water levels, one of those ferries ceased operations for the period when the race was on, so there were eventually only 2 choices.
The limited options approaching the finish wasn’t so different to early editions of the race, where almost the entire field used the same border crossing between Greece and Turkey due to the terrain and lack of roads. However, the ferries across the Danube added the extra complication of timing the arrival at the terminal so as to not lose time waiting for a crossing.
The finish was at the eastern edge of Europe on the coast of the Black Sea in Burgas, Bulgaria, which was where TCR No. 7 started and where the original 2020 version of No. 8 was planned to finish.
The total race distance was the longest ever at over 4200 km. To receive a place in the General Classification, riders had to finish in under 16 days, meaning over 280 km per day. The map at the top of this page is a simplified version of the route. To see the variety of routes that people actually used, see this Heatmap, or see the main tracker page to lookup individual rider routes.
Mikko Mäkipää has ridden and finished all 8 editions of the TCR. He once again entertained dot watchers by his distinct and lengthy route. Between the start and CP1, he went further north than anyone else, he went further west when approaching CP2 and then further north than anyone between CP 2 and 3, and continued to be quite unique in the final 2 sections. He explains his reasoning at length in this video:
The race at the front was very tight, with the top 5 positions changing frequently right up until the finish. Such close racing between so many riders and so deep into the race has never previously happened in the TCR. Before describing the details at the front of the race, here are the main statistics for all riders, based on the official results on the TCR website:
- 240 people started the race, 214 as solo riders plus 13 pairs.
- 88 solo riders and 4 pairs finished within the 16 day limit and were given a place in the General Classification (GC) = 96 people total.
- 6 people finished within 16 days but were excluded from the GC due to rule violations, most of whom were solo riders who spent a significant amount of time riding with someone else. Those people were awarded an official “Finish”.
- A further 19 solo riders and 2 pairs reached the finish after 16 days and so were awarded an official “Finish” = 23 additional people.
- According to the tracker data, 4 solo riders and 1 pair who reached the finish after 16 days had skipped a large section of an obligatory parcours, so were listed as DNF’s.
- 1 person finished within 16 days but was disqualified (reason unknown).
- 96 solo riders and 6 pairs scratched before reaching the finish = 108 people.
The scratch rate of 45% is reasonably high compared to other editions, which is not surprising given the length and difficulty of the route both being close to the highest. As has been observed in previous race editions, most scratches occurred in the first half of the race, with 86% of the people who made it to CP3 (which was two thirds of the way through) making it to the finish.
The Early Leaders
Because the TCR is such a long race, the positions at CP1 (after 37 hours of racing) were not very predictive of the final results, with none of the first 3 people to reach CP1 finishing on the final podium.
Ulrich Bartholomes was the first to CP1 and stayed in the top 2 until CP4, but had problems on the final stretch, as described below, and finished 4th. Robin Gemperle arrived at CP1 in 2nd, but gradually dropped down and finished 8th. Ian To reached CP1 in 3rd, was 4th at CP2, but had to scratch before CP3.
Christoph Strasser (Wikipedia) came to the race with an amazing palmares in supported ultra-distance cycling, having won the most prestigious event, the Race Across AMerica (RAAM), 6 times in the previous 10 editions, and held the course record. He learned many lessons in the early part of his first unsupported race, some of which he covered in these 4 short videos: 1, 2, 3, 4. You can also see his presentation of his bike and kit below:
Christoph arrived at CP1 in 9th place, but was only 3.5 hours behind the leader. He lost a bit more time but gained some places on the way to CP2, being in 7th at 9 hours behind 1st. He made more gains on the way to CP3, where he arrived in 3rd and only 3 hrs behind the leader. By CP4 he had taken the lead from Ulrich Bartholomes, but only by 20 minutes. However, in the final stretch to the finish his rivals were fading or having routing problems while Christoph maintained his pace, and so by the time he reached the finish, he was 8 hours ahead of 2nd place.
Christoph finished in 9 days and 14 hours, and so averaged about 450 km per day. For comparison, he has often averaged over 600 km per day when doing RAAM with a full support team, although that is over far flatter and easier terrain. The 2 versions of the sport require quite different skills to excel at, so it’s impressive that he’s now won the most prestigious event of each type.
CP4 to the Finish
The racing had been tight throughout the race, with the top 3 separated by only 45 minutes at CP1 (after 37 hours of racing). At CP2 there was 3 hours between 1st and 3rd (after 77 hours). CP3 came after 140 hours, but the top 3 were still within 3 hours. CP4 was when things were really intense with only 45 minutes separating the top 3 after 186 hours of racing.
The CP4 timing was taken before riders tackled the required parcours. The route was on some extremely rough gravel tracks and farm roads high up in the Carpathian mountains of Romania. A lot of time could be gained or lost depending on how much of the 27 km segment was ridden versus walked, as documented by Richard Lake in this video:
Once the parcours was complete, more time could be lost waiting for a ferry across the Danube if the arrival wasn’t timed well. The final test was how much energy remained for the push to the finish.
Ulrich Bartholomes was just 20 minutes behind Christoph at CP4, but he chose a ferry crossing that was closed due to the exceptionally low water levels and so he had to divert to an alternative ferry (everyone behind learned from this mistake and headed straight for one of the 2 open ferries). Ulrich’s time between CP4 and the finish was only 64th best out of 88, which dropped him to 6th place at the finish, but he was awarded 4th once penalties were added.
Adam Bialek was probably the most consistently placed rider throughout, always being in the top 4 at each CP, including 1st place at CP3 and only 45 minutes behind Christoph at CP4. Unfortunately, he fared not much better than Ulrich at the end, with the 44th best time for the CP4 to Finish segment. Despite his problems, he arrived in 3rd and was 2nd with the penalties added.
Krystian Jakubek arrived at the finish in 2nd place, 8 hours after Christoph, but the next 4 riders were all within 4 hours of him. Krystian had by far the most penalties, 10.5 hours, so his official finish position was 6th.
Pawel Pulawski was just outside the top 3 at each CP, and crossed the line in 5th, but he had fewer penalties than anyone else in the top 6, so was officially awarded the 3rd place on the podium.
Marin de Saint-Exupéry must have had problems on the way to CP1 because he got there in 32nd place, 10 hours behind the leader, but reached the finish in 4th, which became 5th with penalties.
Fiona Kohlbinger received a lot of attention after winning the previous edition of the race, which demonstrated that women have no physical disadvantages in this sport, see the Transcontinental Race No. 7, 2019 page. She had not taken the lead until after CP2 in 2019, so it was no surprise that she didn’t keep up with the initial pace towards CP1, where she was 9th, about 6 hours behind the leader.
Unfortunately, soon after CP1 Fiona had several hours of delay as she had her wallet stolen while asleep in Czechia. After completing a police report and figuring out how to obtain money, she chose to continue. She got to CP2 in 13th place and was 14th at CP3.
After CP3, Fiona appeared to find another gear and had the second best time between there and the finish, with only Christoph Strasser being faster (a difference of only 1.5 hours over the 87 hour segment). Her big push while others faded moved her up to 8th place at the finish and after the penalties were added, her official position was 7th. She was one of only 2 people in the top 20 to not receive any penalties.
Amrei Kuhne made it two women in the Top 20 overall, finishing in 19th place. Meaghan Hackinen had been in the Top 20 at CP1 (and 2nd woman), but lost a few places at each CP and ended up 33rd and 3rd woman.
The pairs race was won by Théo Daniel and Stephane Ouaja, who are both experienced solo racers. They apparently had some disagreements on the road, but sorted things out and were the first pair at every checkpoint and the finish. They reached the finish after 27 solo riders had already done so.
The 2nd and 3rd place pairs finished 24 hours later, but only 11 minutes apart after effectively having a sprint finish. Their positions were reversed in the official results due to the pair who crossed the line ahead, Christopher Dunand & Jonathan McCarthy, being awarded an additional 7 hours of penalties, so the father-son pair of Richard & Samuel Gate were 2nd.
As shown by the results in the Top 10 described above, penalties awarded for various rule infractions had a far greater effect on the race leaders than ever before. This section addresses a few of the more important or controversial instances. One of the participants, CyclingTourist, discussed this topic in far more details in two blog posts here and here.
Number of Penalties
Penalties were given for traffic violations (riding on roads that were forbidden for cyclists or which had been explicitly banned by the race organizers), border violations (using unofficial border crossings), not following a section of the obligatory control point parcors, or not following the rules of self-sufficiency (giving or receiving assistance to/from another rider or a source that is not available to everyone).
Of the 88 solo riders and 4 pairs who finished within the 16 day limit to be awarded a place in the General Classification (GC), only 12 of them were not awarded any penalties. This rate was similar to that in 2019. The minimum amount of penalties awarded was 11 minutes and the maximum was 13 hours 41 minutes. 5 people who arrived within 16 days received enough penalties to put their time over this limit and were initially excluded from the GC because of this, but were reinstated after they appealed.
Illegal Border Crossing
One of the more controversial penalties that applied to many participants was given for using an illegal border crossing between Bosnia and Montenegro that saved a significant amount of time. The R432a from Avtovac, Bosnia to Pluzine, Montenegro is a very minor road, so it has no official border crossing and is only open to local residents; however, it is generally not controlled. The two alternative routes involve going via Sarajevo or Nikšić and are each close to 100 km longer.
More than 50% of participants who reached CP3 used the illegal border crossing and those that were classified in the GC received a large time penalty for doing so. These penalties would not have been controversial if a precedent had not been set during TCR No. 4 in 2016 when the same CP location was used and about one quarter of riders used the same illegal crossing without anybody being given a penalty for doing so. This was despite penalties being awarded for various other infractions that year and there being much discussion about the use of the crossing after the race.
The 2022 Race Director, Anna Haslock, was not the same as in 2016 (Mike Hall), but Anna had been stationed at CP4 in 2016 at the end of the road from the illegal border crossing, so she was fully aware of the situation and the debate it had caused. It was therefore surprising that the legality of this border crossing was not mentioned in the Race Manual for the 2022 edition whereas certain other roads were specifically identified as not being allowed.
Using the border crossing did go against the rules of the race in that all local laws must be obeyed. The controversy was caused by the precedent that was set in 2016 being ignored without any prior warning, despite the organizers being aware that this was the optimal route and so people were likely to take it since it had been implicitly allowed before.
The organizers response to the appeals about this penalty was to state that the border crossing would have been legal if people obtained prior written permission to use it, but that it was not their job to explain this process beforehand. However, they did decide to reduce the penalty from 9.5 hours to 5.5 hours. This effectively removes most of the penalty aspect and instead just corrects the time for those who used the crossing to be more similar to what it would have been had they used the longer, legal route.
Use of Illegal Roads
Many other penalties were given for using major roads where cycling is illegal or the organizers had explicitly stated that the road was forbidden for participants. Other penalties were given for missing a section of a CP parcours.
Receiving penalties for such road choice infringements are standard practices for the TCR and similar races. The difference this year was that previously, penalties were only given in round numbers such as 30 minutes or 2 hours, whereas this year penalties could be any number of minutes (e.g., one 11 minute penalty or a total penalty time of 6 hours and 38 minutes). The formula used to decide these precise amounts was not disclosed.
Many unique penalties were awarded, two of which drew some attention.
First, a rider who reached the finish half a day before the deadline to be included in the GC then discovered that he’d missed a 16 km stretch of the finish parcours. He chose to go back out and ride a 95 km loop that included the missing 16 km. He reached the finish for a 2nd time shortly before the GC cutoff. He was later removed from the GC because photos of him at the finish showed that he had removed some bags from his bike before doing his extra 95 km loop.
Even when riding out-and-back sections of a parcours, the Race Manual states that all luggage must be carried at all times, so this was certainly an infringement. It is very debatable whether or not it was justified to remove the rider from the GC instead of a simple time penalty, either for missing the 16 km section of the parcours or for not officially doing the extra 95 km loop.
A second unique penalty was important because it involved the race winner, Christoph Strasser, and the rider who was at the time racing him for the lead, Ulrich Bartholomoes. They met each other for the first time on the road when approaching CP4. They decided to stop for a brief chat while having a can of Coke. Ulrich’s credit card didn’t work when paying for his can, so Christoph paid for both cans and mentioned this moment of camaraderie on social media.
Unfortunately, this goes against the rules of self-supported racing and could result in both riders being disqualified. The organizers delayed announcing Christoph’s win until they had spoken at length to both riders to get the complete story.
The organizers decided that it would be sufficient to award a one hour penalty to each rider. Apparently, it was important that Urlich was able to prove via credit card records that he had recently refueled with drinks and food and so the Coke was not essential for him. The penalty made almost no difference to Christoph, but it meant that Ulrich was classified 4th in the final results instead of 3rd.
Starting with the 2023 edition, the race will have a new Director. It will be interesting to see whether the level of policing will be the same and whether the decisions they have to make will be as controversial or important.
There were 21 official podcasts during the race:
- Ep1: The Road to Geraardsbergen (DOC 01)
- Ep2: DAILY 01 – Race Day
- Ep3: A Magical Start (DOC 02)
- Ep4: DAILY 02 – The First 24H
- Ep5: DAILY 03 – In Control
- Ep6: Par for the cours (DOC 03)
- Ep7: DAILY 04 – Leapfrogging
- Ep8: DAILY 05 – Slow Burners
- Ep9: DAILY 06 – Balkan Splits
- Ep10: Ferals (DOC 04)
- Ep11: DAILY 07 – Multi-Purpose Tears<\a>
- Ep12: DAILY 08 – Holding Back
- Ep13: DAILY 09 – Ice Cream Circus
- Ep14: Going Somewhere (DOC 05)
- Ep15: DAILY 10 – Berserk Mode
- Ep16: DAILY 11 – Detours
- Ep17: DAILY 12 – Wendy Houses
- Ep18: Passing Moments (DOC 06)
- Ep19: DAILY 13 – €1 Cokes
- Ep20: DAILY 14 – Good Spirits
- Ep21: Full Hearts (DOC 07)
There were also 18 blog post, which are listed at the top of this post.
As always, the race route offered a good mix of traditional TCR control points and terrain, while also visiting some new regions. There was also the now-typical section of non-rideable rough tracks that sorted out who was prepared for all types of riding. There was also a good variety of competitive route choices between most control points.
The racing at the front of this edition was closer, more intense and lasted for much longer than it’s been in any previous edition. Christoph Strasser was a more than deserving winner, who showed that he can do very impressive rides without needing a huge, expensive support team and wasteful follow vehicles.
The best stories always come from the mid-pack riders, but I cannot summarize everything here, so you should look for them by searching with the hashtag #tcrno8.
Last significant page update: February, 2023
This page is in the The Transcontinental Race section. The next page in this section is: